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Philippines' Arroyo Struggles to Retain Support


Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (l) sits beside former President Fidel Ramos during a meeting with their political party in Malacanang Presidential Palace
Embattled Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and an anxious nation are waiting to hear if the politically influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines will join the chorus of prominent voices demanding her resignation.

The bishops failed to issue a much awaited statement Saturday, possibly signaling their reluctance to ask Mrs. Arroyo to step down.

The influential church body is likely to issue its statement on Sunday, when millions of Filipinos in this predominantly Catholic country traditionally attend church services.

During the last two days, Mrs. Arroyo lost the support of key allies, including eight departing Cabinet members, as well as prominent business and civic groups.

Analysts say, any withdrawal of support at the meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines would almost certainly deal a lethal blow to her presidency.

Calls for her resignation follow allegations Mrs. Arroyo tried to influence the vote count in last year's elections.

The opposition has produced recordings it says are of Mrs. Arroyo conspiring with a top election official to rig the 2004 poll.

The Philippine president apologized last week for talking to the election official, calling it a lapse in judgment but denies any wrongdoing.

Her apology to the nation has done little to stem the crisis, and, on Thursday, Mrs. Arroyo asked her entire Cabinet to resign.

The following day, the eight Cabinet members quit, calling on Mrs. Arroyo to step down from office.

But on Saturday, several Cabinet members spoke up for Mrs. Arroyo.

The head of the presidential management staff, Rigoberto Tiglao, chided those Cabinet members who quit for their lack of loyalty to the president and to the nation.

"There's a sense of decency that we have to follow beyond any slogans of morality or governance," said Rigoberto Tiglao. "I am very sorry my colleagues have chosen to abandon this all of a sudden."

Presidential Legal Council member Gabriel Claudio took it a step further, and accused the eight departed Cabinet members of fueling the political crisis.

"It appears to me, and it does appear now to the general public, that what they had in mind, and what the agenda all along was, was not to help the president and this government get out of crisis, but to assert their own point of view on how this crisis is to be handled," Mr. Claudio said.

The political turmoil has failed to move the majority of Filipinos. Many are angry over rampant graft and corruption in the country, amid rising prices and poverty, but there is no sign of the "People Power" uprisings that ousted the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986 and President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Mrs. Arroyo rose from vice president to president after Mr. Estrada was toppled, as he faced impeachment hearings over graft and corruption.

Office worker Nino Pasquale says Mrs. Arroyo should not resign, because that would only create more instability.

"It's not good for the country, because of the politics, which cause some irregularities," he said. "There would be some political rally or something, and the president is capable of leading the country."

The military, which has staged numerous coups since 1986, has pledged to stay neutral and uphold the constitution, but coup weary Filipinos worry young officers may try to use the crisis to mount a power grab.

Mrs. Arroyo and the whole country are waiting to hear what the Catholic bishops have to say.

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